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FALLING OUT  WITH THE PHANTOM FAMILY HALO

Words by Kristina Ensminger

Who: The Phantom Family Halo
What: A live preview of their upcoming album, When I Fall Out (February 14, 2012; Knitting Factory Records), in its entirety.
Where: Death by Audio – Brooklyn, NY
When: November 27, 2011

The Phantom Family Halo, brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Dominic Cipolla, is an amalgamation of Cipolla’s eclectic musical taste—from Amon Düül to John Cale to Alice Cooper. With such a wide-ranging palette to draw from, PFH’s sound can’t be filed neatly under any one genre; psychiatric-meets-psychedelic krautrock seems to be the most fitting. Their most recent release, The Mindeater EP, a split with fellow Louisville native Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is more somber folk than psych-rock (the exception being the electric, jam-heavy cover of “I Wonder If I Care as Much,” with its epic five-minute guitar solo), showing Cipolla’s chameleon-like appeal—he’s as equally adept at acoustic subtlety as he is at electric experimentation. 

The When I Fall Out show at Death by Audio felt like a thumbnail preview of what PFH is capable of live, but not the whole picture. Early in the set, Cipolla inquired, “Can anyone see sparks? Because I’m getting the shit shocked out of me.” The shock factor was fitting, since Cipolla acted as the band’s lightning rod—his stage presence was reserved, but he still managed to conduct a massive amount of energy from his grounded stance. Conversely, William Benton—who played bass and some guitar on the record—had a much more physical presence, wailing on guitar and making use of as much of the small stage as possible. The visual art element was hard to decipher (the projection was lost against the painted walls at DBA), but the raw DIY sound actually complemented the album’s dark subject matter and gritty vibe.

When I Fall Out is the first of two concept albums (the second of which will be released next fall) written as a catharsis after Cipolla lost a close friend. A Dante-like journey through the macabre, each song represents a different level of darkness. “White Hot Gun,” with manic guitar solos that build into a raging climax, seems like the sonic equivalent of watching someone in a padded cell devolve into madness. Abruptly downshifting, the next track, “Dirty Blade,” glides into the numbness of grief with a funky, low-end piano bass line and tiptoeing guitar riffs. “Above My Head” feels like pre-institutionalized Roky Erickson, while “Lightning On Your Face” has a dark cinematic surrealism.

The second-to-last track, “The Fall Out Suite” (a bookend to the opening track “The Fall Out”), feels and sounds like a final acceptance of death—both haunting and soothing. The last track, “Vital Energy,” seems more like the album’s epilogue, a glimpse into the spooky transition between worlds that ends with a Barrett-era Floyd-like battery drain, the final notes and thoughts being slowly sucked away into another realm. Whether this song represents the end to this chapter or the beginning of the next story, whatever follows is sure to be epic.

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